How in the world did I know it? How in the world did I predict that my father was going to bring me back to the one place on earth I had no interest in being whatsoever? Back to the old man’s land. Back to the place I had never wanted to see again – see again for the rest of my life. And why did my father have to make everything a surprise? Why did he have to make everything a damn utter surprise all the time? It was like he enjoyed making me suffer.
I swear he knew the old man was mad at me. I swear he knew that. How could he not know? He saw me crying that day I walked back to him after I found the pond. He saw the redness in my eyes. He never said anything to me, but he saw me crying and he knew what happened. He had to have. Sitting there watching the old man’s hunched shoulders rise and fall as he slowly walked away from me in the dirt parking lot should have told him something. My father just sat there on his piece of machinery watching that old man.
“Dad, why am I here?”
“Because he wants his front lawn raked. The whole thing. The whole thing – from his house all the way down the hill.”
“But why me? Why not you, or him?”
“Because he wants you here. He said he wants to pay you to work. To make sure you work and then get paid for it.”
“So what’s more important here – me working or him giving me money?”
“I think both. He said you’ll be paid based on exactly how much you work today. But he made it very clear to me that you will be getting paid.”
My hesitancy and anger began to fade – and fade fast. The more my father used those words, “paid” and “money,” the more I had visions. Visions of the old man standing there on his front lawn placing giant green bills into my outstretched hand, all for raking his entire front lawn. And a finely raked front lawn might I add. Such a finely raked front lawn that the old man would ask me back year after year to rake it again and again. Which meant more and more money for me.
My face began to relax, changing from a look of concern and apprehension to one of willingness and desire as I continued my thinking.
I may have been thinking for too long because after a while, I realized that I was standing there staring into space. And while standing there, the desire for money became stronger and stronger, so strong in fact that I had a burst of energy that told me that I needed to start raking right then and there. The days were getting shorter and I didn’t want to run out of time. The lawn was huge and I needed to start work right away.
Now, let me remind you once more that I was nine years old. And as such, I’ll tell you that nine year olds have the attention span of a fruit fly. And that’s what I had. The attention span of a fruit fly. You would have agreed with that sentiment if you were standing there on that old man’s front lawn that day. Watching me rake those leaves. Watching me rake that small, small pile of leaves. Probably about two hundred and fifty leaves in all.
And as I raked that small pile of leaves in the old man’s front yard that day, I thought I was alone. All by myself in that front yard.
After my father left and right after I began raking, I slowly began to fade. It didn’t take long – not long at all. I’ll admit that when I first started raking, I was full of vigor and energy. I worked like a hurricane. I raked like a storm right smack in the middle of a beautiful autumn day. I’ll tell you that right now.
But then my nine year old mind set in. As I was raking, I started to imagine how great that money was going to feel in my pocket. All that money the old man was going to give me for waking up early and coming all the way over to his property to rake. Coming over to him and choosing his property instead of another. Choosing to sacrifice a day of my life for him, as opposed to anyone else in the universe. Now, that deserved pay. Big pay. I started thinking like that, like I deserved the money he was going to give me. I started thinking that I deserved that money before I even gave my work any sustained effort.
And as I raked, I continued to fade.
I started to think that if I perhaps walked around a bit with my rake in my hand, I would get paid the same amount as if I worked real hard to get the job done. I started to think that if I spent a long time on his property, inspecting the job – inspecting what had to be done, I would again get the same amount. I started to think that it didn’t matter how little I worked because I had earned so much already, so much for all those reasons I described above. Reasons like getting out of bed, making it to his property and choosing him as opposed to anyone else in the world. And that made perfect sense in my tiny little mind.
It’s a shame I had such a skewed sense of reality though because I’ll tell you that I spent a good long time over at that old man’s property that day. I spent hours and hours on that front lawn. I raked and then walked and then raked and then sat down. I took a break and then inspected and then sat down again. It took a lot out of me that day to avoid all that work. It’s not easy you know. It’s not easy to maintain that furrowed brow of concern and a sense of self satisfaction all day long.
Well, I’ll tell you one thing, and this is what really surprised me that day. The thing that surprised me the day I went over the old man’s property to rake leaves was that he was inside watching me. He was standing right there in his living room in his big white house watching every move I made. He stood there looking through that tall front window that overlooked the entire front lawn and the hill and the reservoir gazing at me for hours. The window that extended from the floor all the way up to the ceiling. And as he watched me, he saw that I did whole lot of nothing. And I came to find out later on, as that old man was standing there watching me do nothing, he didn’t move. He didn’t move at all, not even a muscle.